The ongoing controversy about Isaac Stern has sparked a fascinating conversation about great violinists who, for one reason or other, never became world famous. The name that shot to the top of the pile was the Latvian violinist, Philippe Hirschhorn. Philippe who?
Ljubisa Jovanovic explains.
Philippe Hirschhorn (Violin)
Born: 1946 – Riga, Latvia (former USSR)
Died: November 26, 1996 – Brussels, Belgium
The Latvian violinist, Philippe Hirschhorn, first studied at the conservatory of Riga with Professor Waldemar Sturestep; later he studied with Professor Michael Waiman at the Conservatoire of St. Petersburg. He won the First Prize at the International Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1967, where the Jury included some of the formost names of the 20th century violinists: David Oistrakh, Yehudi Menuhin, Zino Francescatti, Arthur Grumiaux, Joseph Szigeti, Josef Gingold, Théo Olof, André Gertler, and Max Rostal (the year in which Gidon Kremer won the third prize). We can find his legendary interpretations of Paganini 1st Concerto and Geminiani Sonata from this competition. ‘I had the impressions that I cheated the jury,’ he said. ‘I was a successful liar.’
The playing of Philippe Hirschhorn was ultra-sensitive, with deep understanding of artistic aspects and knowledge about music, looking for emotional and spiritual points and sharing idealistic sense for instrument. Always afraid to lose part of his art while working on it, he wondered if his playing was “pure” enough? After he won the First Prize at the International Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, he thought was “somehow cheating and lie the jury” during his perform of Paganini?! He was sure that for making a good carrier, is more important to be clever, focused on wright things, hard worker with lucky, then to be original figure in music. Somehow he stayed “unadopted” in world of artistic commercialism. For many musicians he is one of most important personalities of XX century…
“The most unbelievable musician I ever met… He possessed mystical hypnotic power” – Mischa Maisky
Philippe Hirschhorn settled in Belgium in 1973. He played concerts all over the world (Europe, America and Japan) with the most prestigious orchestras conducted by amongst others Herbert von Karajan, Ferdinand Leitner, Frübeck de Burgos, Jesús López-Cobos and Lawrence Foster. He played chamber music with partners who were also friends such as Elisabeth Leonskaya, Martha Argerich, Mischa Maisky, Brigitte Engerer, David Geringas, etc.
Despite being one of the most gifted violinists ever, he did not gain worldwide attention. The rare recordings that exist of him playing are examples of his technical and musical abilities. Sadly, his career was cut short because of poor health (some attributing to unspecified illnesses, acute nerves and burnout), or maybe because his priority was to have the most perfectly playing, technically and musicaly, never being happy about it. Once, after concert, he began to play the 1st caprice by Paganini, everybody in the hall was so impressed by his perfectly technique but after one minute of playing, he suddently stopped and went out because he thought he was playing too bad!
Philippe Hirschhorn was the teacher of many excellent violinists who dedicated their working life to performing and teaching, among others Philippe Graffin, Cornelia Angerhofer, Evert Sillem, Janine Jansen, Yoris Jarzynski, Marie-Pierre Vendôme and many others. He died in 1996 in Brussels at the age of 50, from a brain tumor.
Janine Jansen said in an interview to Strings Magazine that ”it was her lessons at the Utrecht Conservatory with Philippe Hirshhorn, that took her playing to a new level. Their time together, so formative for Jansen, was tragically short: Jansen was 16 when she began studying with him and Hirshchorn was already suffering the brain tumor that would kill him two years later. In the Janine film, composer Victor Kissine talks about receiving a phone call from Hirshchorn, who had just heard Jansen play for the first time. “He wanted to share his amazement,” Kissine recalls. The admiration seems to have been mutual between teacher and pupil. “The lessons were so exciting and so inspiring for me,” Jansen says. “To play for such an electrifying musician, you always wanted to give your best.”
Flute Professor, Faculty of Music, Belgrade